Cuba is airing the communist island’s first TV programme featuring openly gay characters.

The Hidden Side of the Moon broke macho telenovela tradition this spring with a story line about a married man who falls in love with another man and becomes HIV-positive.

According to the Miami Herald, it was the most-watched TV show in Cuban history.

The Hidden Side of the Moon was the first time the Cuban state-run television monopoly tackled homosexuality in such a high-profile manner.

According to the Herald, some credit the increased exposure to Mariela Castro, daughter of Defence Minister and interim president Raúl Castro, President Fidel Castro’s younger brother.

Mariela runs the National Centre for Sex Education, from which she publicly promotes lesbian, gay and transgender rights.

Mariela Castro’s office not only advocated the controversial soap, but has pushed for sensitivity training for police. Underscoring the government’s support of her work, this year she gave a number of interviews to foreign media, which is extremely rare for employees of the Cuban government.

“There is no official repression of lesbians and gays in Cuba,” she told the Montreal Gazette this summer.

“What remains are social and cultural reactions that must be transformed, the same as in many other countries.”

Some of the island’s gays told United Press International that the overwhelming popularity of The Hidden Side of the Moon is proof Cuba’s hardline communist government has become more tolerant of homosexuals.

In the past, gays in Cuba were routinely harassed and beaten by police, reports UPI.

Other gays, however, took issue with the fact the gay characters on the show are HIV-positive.

“The simple fact that they put a gay issue on TV shows a lot,” said Oilime, a gay Cuban who would only provide his first name, to UPI. “But it promoted the idea that if you sleep with a gay man, you will get a fatal illness.”

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